At a press conference held on 15 September 2010 in Toronto of victims and survivors of gun violence, Heather Imming stated, “the firearms registry saved my life.” The registry was used to remove guns from her violent, estranged husband.

She survived a final beating that left her savagely battered but firmly believes that the fact that the registry was used to remove his guns “is why I am here today.”

Imming was one of several survivors of gun violence who spoke in support of the Canadian Association of Police Board’s Day of Action to save the gun registry. The press conference, organized by victims advocate Priscilla de Villiers, included the stories of gun victims showing the devastation inflicted by a single gun in the wrong hands.

Priscilla de Villiers’ daughter Nina was abducted from a Burlington tennis court and killed with a legally owned unrestricted rifle (in spite of the fact the killer was out on bail on violence offenses with that gun) in 1991. Villiers noted that the inquest into the killing recommended licensing all gun owners and the registration of all guns. “During this whole debate, there has been virtual silence on the victims’ perspective. People talk about gun owner rights. What about our rights and the rights of our children to be safe. Every group concerned about crime prevention and public safety supports the registry. We are calling on Canadians to make their voices heard,” she said.

Louise Russo, who was shot with a stolen semi-automatic rifle in April 2004 that left her a paraplegic, tearfully described her months in hospital and the devastation her injuries caused not just her but her entire family. “Instead of focusing on the costs of gun control, politicians should focus on the costs of gun violence and the price paid by victims. I am unable to care for my severely handicapped daughter,” she said. Russo was the principal caregiver of her disabled daughter before the shooting. “I am so worried about the impact on my younger daughter who witnessed my shooting. It has affected her profoundly.”

Elaine Lumley, from Toronto, told how her son Aiden was killed outside a bar in Montreal. The killer and the handgun were never found. “I grew up in northern Ontario. I know that all guns, handguns, rifles, shotguns, are potentially dangerous. We want to make it harder not easier for dangerous people to get access to guns. Canadians must stand up for the firearms registry,” she said.

Bob and Dianne Pajkowski also spoke out. In April 1999, their daughter Melissa Pajkowski, then 21, was killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend who had access to his father’s gun collection, despite his history of depression and repeated suicide attempts. Mr. Pajkowski emphasized the need to keep guns away from people with mental health problems, the failures in the system and the need to register all firearms. He said, “there is a vast difference between imagining the worst thing that can happen to your family and experiencing it.”

Brian Vallee, author of "Life with Billy" and "The War on Women" added his perspective on the role of guns in violence against women. He challenged the myth that gun violence is an urban problem. He said, “the research shows that a firearm in the home increases the risk women will be killed. I have travelled the country and hear horrifying stories of abuse from women terrorized by men with legally owned rifles and shotguns in rural communities.”

For more information contact: Priscilla de Villiers, 416 660 8911, or Sarah Hayward, 416-505-0523,

No law can prevent all tragedies,’ but gun registry helps: victims’ families

Peter Edwards, Staff Reporter, The Toronto Star

Rhetoric and infighting has drowned out the message that gun controls save lives, victims of gun violence told a news conference on Wednesday.

“What really saddens me is that somehow the message has been lost,’ said Priscilla de Villiers, whose 19-year-old daughter Nina was abducted at gunpoint while jogging and murdered by sexual predator Jonathan Yeo in Burlington.

Yeo committed suicide with his legally acquired rifle, after sexually assaulting another stranger, also at gunpoint in 1991.

De Villiers and other victims of gun violence held their news conference at police headquarters as Parliament readies itself to vote on whether to scrap a requirement for owners to register their rifles and shotguns.

The inquest into Nina de Villiers’ murder — and five others — recommended firearms registries as a way of reducing gun violence. De Villiers, who founded the group CAVEAT (Canadians Against Violence), presented 2.5 million signatures to Parliament in 1993, calling for tougher gun laws.

Her efforts were rewarded in 1995 with the passage of a bill in Parliament, requiring shotguns and rifles to be registered to their owners.

She acknowledged that no law — including a gun registry — will prevent all firearms tragedies.

“Would it (a gun registry) have saved my daughter?,” she said. “We don’t know.”

“No law can prevent all tragedies,” she said. “. . . The gun control law makes it harder — not easier — for dangerous people to get firearms.”

De Villiers noted that police officers access the registry 13,320 times a day, and she called the registry an invaluable tool in domestic violence cases.

“Rifles and shotguns are the guns most often used in domestic violence, suicides and accidents, and in the murder of police officers,” she said.

“While there are more guns in rural areas and the west, and more opposition to gun control, there are also higher rates of gun death and injury, often involving rifles and shotguns,” she said.

She said it saddens her that somehow victims seem forgotten in the current gun control debate.

“I’ve virtually not heard ‘victim,’” de Villiers said. “I’ve not heard the word ‘tragedy’ . . . Somehow that has been left out of the dialogue.”

Also speaking out in support of the gun registry was Louise Russo, who has been confined to a wheelchair since she was struck by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting at a North York sandwich shop in April 2004.

Russo urged Canadians to lobby federal politicians over the next few days.

“Let’s do what’s right,” she said.

Elaine Lumley of Toronto, whose son Aiden was shot to death while visiting Montreal in November 2005, said that she’d like the debate to focus on saving lives, not politics.

“Any gun in the wrong hands is lethal,” she said. “We have to stop equating freedom with owning an unregistered firearm.”

“We need more gun control, not less,” she said.

Bob and Dianne Pajkowski, also from the GTA, said it was painful for them to recount how their daughter Melissa was shot to death after being abducted at gunpoint in 1999 by her ex-boyfriend, who had severe mental health issues.

They said they felt it was their duty to speak out in support of the gun registry, to keep other families from feeling the pain that continues since Melissa’s death.

“We are normally very private people and we do not want or seek the spot light,” Bob Pajkowski said. “It is very difficult for us to be here today but we feel it critically important to do so, because we know what it is like to have a beloved family member killed by a gun.”

Originally published on 16 September 2010 in The Toronto Star: